“We Shall Probably Succeed”

English: Schematic map of Siege of Quebec betw...
Schematic map of Siege of Quebec between Jun. 28 to Jun. 31, 1759 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Although Quebec did not surrender to Wolfe’s forces until September 18, 1759, after the battle on the Plains of Abraham on September 13, the campaign began on May 5.

When Wolfe sailed from England in February, with twenty-two warships, as well as frigates and sloops of war, he went to Halifax and stayed there because Louisburg harbour was closed by ice. Work began on the assembling of an army. Most of the units had been engaged in the attack on Louisburg the previous year. When the troops were assembled and counted, there were only 9,000 men. The battle plan called for 12,000. Wolfe refused to be discouraged and wriote to Prime Minister Pitt: “If valour can make amends for lack of numbers, we shall probably succeed.”

It was an optimistic point of view, because Montcalm had 15,000 regulars and 1,000 militia. Quebec was supposed to be an impregnable fortress, and under those conditions the attacking force should be far greater than the defenders.

Then came another blow. On May 5, Captain Durell sailed from Halifax with a number of warships to block the St. Lawrence. The plan was to prevent reinforcements arriving from France. Durell was too late. Twenty-three French transports under Admiral Bougainville had already made their way up the river to Quebec.

Durell took his ships up the river after them until they arrived at Isle-aux-Coudres, 60 miles below Quebec. Montcalm had wanted to fortify the island, but had been over-ruled by Governor Vaudreuil, who, with Intendant Bigot, as his biggest handicap. The opportunity to set up a base there was seized by Colonel Guy Carleton, later to play a greater part in the development of Canada as Lord Dorchester. He was in charge of the troops in the Durell expedition.

There were many notable players in the drama of Quebec. Cook, who became an explorer of the Pacific coast, was a “Master” or navigating officer of Wolfe’s armada, and guided it safely through the almost uncharted waters of the St. Lawrence during May and June. Sometimes the armada stretched for miles as it made its way up the river. It was one of the greatest feats of navigation of all time, as not a ship was wrecked. The French were dumbfounded when they saw the British ships sail through “the traverse” where they would seldom risk a ship of their own.

There are a few places to click to learn more about this: to read an excellent report, I highly suggest reading Canadian Nautical Research Society‘s Invisible Admiral: Phillip Durell at the Siege of Quebec,  1759, by Peter MacLeod; also recommended is Marianopolis College‘s Seven Years War, The Siege of Quebec by William Wood; another good site is Kronoskaf, written in a wiki format; a site I just learned about that’s a great read is Canadian Genealogy.net.


  1. I didn’t know Cook was at that campaign. Besides the Pacific exploration he also conducted an excellent nautical survey of the waters of Newfoundland and is credited with naming quite a few places, Names that still exist. He also had quite a sense of humour. One community in Trinity Bay he named ‘dildo’ because a spit of land resembled…ummm…yes it did, apparently. The name survives. The residents voted a few years back on whether to change it but in the end it was decided that the unusual name was worth keeping.


Let me know what's on your mind

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.